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How Real-Time Data Changes the Game With Company Expenses

How Real-Time Data Changes the Game With Company Expenses

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Alex Roha

1 Dec 2022
5 minute read
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Live updates on inventory dispersion, immediate notification of security breaches, instant visibility into business expenses after the swiping of a company card: Whatever the use case, real-time data retrieval is essential for future business intelligence. 

And for companies looking to leverage real-time data capabilities, handling business-related expenses is an important first step.  Here’s what happens when accuracy and immediacy come together in expense management data processing.

How Real-Time Processing Works

Real-time data is immediately available at the point of its creation. Historically, large quantities of data were gathered through batch processing—a method in which data was collected, processed, and stored in stages before users could analyze and act upon it.

However, this method comes with a built-in time lag. And let’s face it: An object at rest will stay at rest unless you choose to move it. So why would you want older data that isn’t helping to actively move your business forward? Real-time collection means the data isn’t “resting”—it’s continuously building upon itself and immediately providing opportunities to analyze and act upon the intelligence it provides.

The impressive speed at which modern technology collects data relies heavily on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. It typically occurs in six steps:

  • Collecting and extracting from the source; i.e. a data warehouse, connected device, etc.
  • Cleansing duplicate, missing, or inaccurate data
  • Uploading raw data into a platform for readability
  • Processing the data via AI or machine learning in order to interpret it
  • Uploading in a consumable format like video, audio, or visualizations
  • Storing the data for future reference or reusing in the machine learning cycle

If you’re interested in the technical side of how databases store all this information and how certain processes work together, check out this article on the Navan engineering blog.

Real-World Use Cases for Real-Time Results

One of the most important assets a business can leverage is accurate, timely data. It creates clarity that leads to actionable results—whether that involves tracking consumer behavior, social media feeds, or risk mitigation tactics. The ability to employ these insights and trends within seconds or minutes vs. weeks or months makes companies more competitive and agile.

When it comes to handling a company’s expenses, real-time data flourishes in four key areas:

  • Proactivity
  • Visibility
  • Cost savings
  • Reduced downtime

These benefits can be of use in standard business practices.

Centralized Spend Monitoring

With data-driven decisions, companies reduce the risk of implementing incorrect or inefficient strategies and remain driven by what has worked historically.

Consider a sales team of 50 people. They will accrue expenses throughout a sales trip—from customer meals to flight reservations and hotel rooms. But if sales teams don’t submit expenses after each trip—and instead wait until the end of the month or quarter—finance teams are already behind in analyzing the data and can’t accurately budget for the future.

And because not every single cup of coffee or ballpoint pen needs a sign-off, real-time data can help enforce spend controls by constantly updating road warriors' travel expense limits (i.e. per diems).

In non-travel settings, employees may need to spend company money on things like software subscriptions, office supplies, or tech shipments for their home office. Real-time data can streamline the process of managers having to manually okay every transaction. Instead, that data can help companies monitor team budgets and automatically accept in-policy spending.

Increased Employee Compliance

Immediate access to data allows companies to measure whether employees are sticking to company policy. Over time, out-of-policy behaviors can take a financial toll on companies, taking swift action on them helps maintain a healthy bottom line. Companies can also use real-time data to identify recurring policy violators and fraudulent activity.

However, companies can stop out-of-policy behavior at the point of sale if an employee uses a corporate p-card or credit card with built-in policy controls. Real-time controls help enact immediate compliance based on the policies finance leaders and admins set in place.

With these insights, finance leaders and admin can also understand if policies are proving effective. Through data storytelling, leaders can begin to understand if these violations result from unclear policies, weak enforcement, or other factors.

Better Financial Decision-Making

Making intelligent decisions faster and streamlining processes will likely lead to greater success in exceeding targets and improving operational and financial performance.

And because spend visibility provides greater insights into all areas of a company, including compliance, purchasing behaviors, or supplier evaluation, finance teams can better understand the financial health across staff, departments, and the entire company. Holders of this data could decipher:

  • When price fluctuations occur in purchasing the same goods
  • Peak and trough times of purchase
  • The most- or least-purchased products, software, or items

This analysis can be vital when allocating cash flow across the business and identifying cost-saving opportunities such as changing supplier order flows or adjusting what is considered a business expense vs. a personal expense. 

Small, practical changes can often lead to significant savings and greater profitability. Teams gain access to an almost infinite amount of insight and data, and each piece of information brings greater visibility for strategic and directional decision-making.

Data That Works for You

Real-time data is the key to understanding a company’s financial environment in the moment. If harnessed correctly, it can help leaders strategize how to maximize performance capabilities and allow companies of all sizes—small businesses, startups, and enterprises—to reap the benefits of immediately seeing all the moving pieces contributing to business expenditures.

Ready to streamline company spending and implement an all-in-one travel and expense management solution? Schedule a demo to see how our spend solutions work, or get up and running with Navan in juts 5 minutes.

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